Professor Joel M Modiri

Academic profile

Professor Joel Malesela Modiri is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Jurisprudence. He was the Acting HOD from October 2020 and was then permanently appointed to the position with effect from 1 June 2021. He holds the degrees LLB cum laude (Pret) and PhD (Pret). His PhD thesis was entitled “The Jurisprudence of Steve Biko: A Study in Race, Law and Power in the ‘Afterlife’ of Colonial-apartheid”.
Prior to his appointment as Lecturer in the Department of Jurisprudence, University of Pretoria, Modiri worked as a lecturer in the School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand in 2015 and prior to as an assistant lecturer in the Department of Jurisprudence, University of Pretoria in 2014. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer at the end of 2018.
Modiri mainly teaches in the field of Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy. He has convened and taught a number of law subjects such as Social Justice and Human Rights, African Human Rights, Research Methodology, Legal Problems of HIV & AIDS, and Law and Transformation. He has also taught portions of courses in Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology and Public Policy presented by the Faculty of Humanities. He currently convenes the LLM/MPhil in Law and Political Justice.
Focus areas
Modiri’s main research focus areas are Critical Race Theory, African Jurisprudence, Law and Identity, Feminist Political Philosophy, Black Political Thought, Legal Education and Critical Pedagogy as well as Critical Theories of Human Rights and Constitutionalism.  The central concern of his teaching and research relates to the development of a critical anti-racist post-conquest jurisprudence through which to contemplate possibilities for liberation, decolonisation and historical justice in South Africa and beyond.  This entails drawing on a number of intellectual traditions and opening space for new knowledges that could disclose alternative conceptions of law, constitutionalism, history, justice, subjectivity, power, memory and politics. In addition to deepening his post-doctoral research on the theory and politics of Steve Biko, Modiri’s current research projects include “Azanian jurisprudence”, “Decolonisation and Critical Legal Futures” and “Thinking Race Historically”.
Significant publications to date
  • “Towards a Post-apartheid Critical Race Jurisprudence: ‘Divining our Racial Themes’” (2012) 27 SA Public Law 229 – 256.
  • “The Colour of Law, Power and Knowledge: Introducing Critical Race Theory in (Post-)apartheid South Africa” (2012) 28 South African Journal on Human Rights 405 – 435.
  • “Race, Realism and Critique: the Politics of Afriforum v Malema in the (In)equality Court” (2013) 130 South African Law Journal 273 – 292.
  • “Transformation, Tension and Transgression: Reflections on the Culture and Ideology of South African Legal Education” (2013) 24 Stellenbosch Law Review 455 – 479.
  • “The Rhetoric of Rape: an Extended Note on Apologism, Depoliticisation and the Male Gaze in Ndou v S” (2014) 26 South African Journal on Human Rights 134 – 158.
  • “The Crises in Legal Education” (2014) 46 Acta Academica 1-24.
  • “Law’s Poverty” (2015) 18 Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal 224 – 273.
  • “Reading Choreographies of Black Resistance: Courtroom Performance as/and Critique” in A Allo (editor) The Courtroom as a Space of Resistance: Reflections of the Legacy of the Rivonia Trial (2015, Ashgate Publishing: London) 213 – 240.
  • “The Time and Space of Critical Legal Pedagogy” (2016) 27 Stellenbosch Law Review 507 – 534.
  • “Conquest and Constitutionalism: First Thoughts on an Alternative Jurisprudence” (2018) South African Journal on Human Rights 300 – 325.
  • “Race, history, irresolution: Reflections on City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality v Afriforum and the limits of post-apartheid constitutionalism” (2019) De Jure Law Journal 27-46.
Recent conference papers
  • “The Time and Space of Human Rights”, June 2016, (Keynote), ASSAf Young Scientists Conference, Birchwood Hotel and Spa, Boksburg. (by invitation)
  • “Transition, Decolonisation, Catastrophe: Reflections on Black Consciousness as a Jurisprudence of Liberation” Critical Legal Conference 2017, 1-3 September 2017, Warwick University, United Kingdom.
  • “In Defence of the South African “Obsession” with Race: Towards a Critical Analytic” Africa Speaks Keynote Lecture Series, 28 March 2018, UNISA College of Human Sciences, Pretoria, South Africa.
  • “Dis-membering the University?” Andrew Mellon Foundation Colloquium on Social Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education, 7-11 October 2018, Durban, South Africa
  • “Race, Conquest and the Whiteness of the South African Academy: Experiments in Azanian Critique”, IRAAS Conversations, 9 November 2018, Columbia University, New York.
  • “Reading Black Consciousness as jurisprudence” UCLA Law School Colloquium (Guest Speaker), 22 February 2019 UCLA, California.
  •  “Cacophony, Autocritique and Abolition: impression Points on Decolonisation and the Law” (Keynote), Decolonisation and the Law School, 13 September 2019, University of Bristol, UK.
  • Commentary and Reflections on African Jurisprudence (Keynote panel discussion), Law and Politics in Three Courts, 7 November 2019, Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, University of Oxford, UK.
  • “Jurisprudence, Black Thought and Constitutional Abolitionism: Reflections on the Azanian Tradition”, Theorizing African Political and Social thought for Knowledge Production, 21-22 November 2019, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana.
Academic and professional memberships / fellowships

Modiri is the Editor-in-chief of the South African Journal on Human Rights (SAJHR) and he also edits the Faculty’s in-house occasional papers series, the PULP Fictions. He has been a Faculty member of Harvard Law School’s Institute for Global Law and Policy Africa Regional Workshop held in Cape Town.  He has also held a Visiting Fellowship at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), University of the Witwatersrand and was selected as an Inaugural Fellow in the Atlantic Fellowship for Racial Equity Programme (2018-2019) hosted by Columbia University and the Nelson Mandela foundation.  He was also awarded the 2019 Africa Oxford Law Visiting Fellowship.
Modiri is also a member of the Section 11 Committee on Equality at the South African Human Rights Commission and was an invited speaker at the 17th session of the United Nations Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) (16-20 December 2019).

Awards and recognition
  • Special page feature as Faculty Researcher in 2012 Research Report, University of Pretoria (p. 58)
  • Best Lecturer in the First Year (2016; 2017; 2018)
  • 2018 Society of Law Teachers of Southern Africa (SLTSA) JUTA Prize for Best Legal Education Paper
  • Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans 2018 (Justice and Law)
Contact Details
Tel: +27 12 420 2879
Fax: +27 12 420 4524
Email: [email protected]
Online profiles
Google Scholar:
[January 2021]

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